On Wednesday, July 25th, Sergio Marchionne, longtime CEO of Fiat Chrysler, died due to complications after a recent shoulder surgery. We at Ease express our deepest condolences to Marchionne’s family and friends during this time.
Marchionne was a visionary, always working diligently to make positive and profitable changes to FCA and to the automotive industry as a whole.
Turning Fiat Around
Marchionne first gained fame after becoming Fiat CEO in 2004, driving company profits to nearly $1.8 Billion within a year after several years of billion-dollar losses.
That seemingly impossible feat was the result of several key moves. First, he made a daring deal with General Motors to pay Fiat $2 Million to cut ties with the brand. He also pushed to introduce new models, standardize quality processes and bring new cars to market in just 18 months (versus the typical four years).
Stepping in to Save Chrysler
Marchionne’s most notable accomplishment took place during the height of the recession in 2009, when the United States was working to prevent the collapse of the automotive industry.
At a time when no other businesses would step up to save Chrysler, the most endangered of Detroit’s "Big Three" automakers, Marchionne rolled the dice. He had dubbed himself the “corporate fixer,” after all, and he was confident he could turn the failing company around.
The big catch? The U.S. government would have to give Chrysler to Fiat for free.
Driving a hard bargain, Marchionne knew that the U.S. treasury, Chrysler’s creditors and labor unions had more to lose than he did by not taking the offer. And his gamble worked. He became the company’s savior, rescuing tens of thousands of jobs while turning the company solidly profitable.
A Renewed Focus on Quality
So how exactly did Marchionne save what had been a quickly sinking ship?
For starters, he changed almost all of the senior leadership in his first few days, stating that “the real problem sits at the top.” Next, he turned his focus to creating a culture of quality and improving working conditions on the shop floor.
In the end, it was his dedication to quality that drove Chrysler’s dramatic turnaround.
Marchionne was an unstoppable force, often described by others as difficult to work with, however, there was no doubt knew exactly how to transform a struggling auto company from the inside out.
Marchionne was known for his quirky personality and direct manner, his pop culture references and for wearing a dark cashmere sweater and jeans everyday. Like many modern executives, Marchionne knew that eliminating clothing choices left him with significantly more decision-making energy for what really mattered.
Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, was a close confidant of Marchionne’s and noted that he had an unusually strong analytical mind.
“He could take a fire hose of complexity and reduce it to its fundamentals in minutes,” says Jackson. “He had the courage to make very aggressive decisions, and if it went badly, he’d be totally accountable for it.”
It’s that type of revolutionary thinking and willingness to take big, yet calculated, risks that will be the cornerstone of Marchionne’s legacy. He will also be remembered as a quality hero, proving that doing things effectively is the true path to profitability and pride in your work.